What are scallops? What does a scallop taste like? Here you will find the answers to these questions as well as useful information on buying and cooking scallops.
Taste of Scallops
Scallops have a briny saltiness with a slightly sweet and buttery taste. Their delicate texture makes them perfect for a quick saute in a pan with a simple sauce. They taste like they come from the sea without being fishy. This shell fish takes on the seasoning that you cook them with so be prepared for a tasty dinner. In other words, scallops are succulent and delicious!
What are Scallops?
Scallops are a shellfish that are part of the mollusk family. This delicious shellfish is similar to oysters, muscles and clams as they have two hinged shells. Inside the shell, there is a a white adductor muscle that opens and closes the shell, as well as an orange section called the coral. The white muscle is what we eat and the texture is somewhat similar to lobster or crab meat.
Sea Scallops versus Bay Scallops
There are two types of scallops. The main difference is their size.
- Sea Scallops - These more popular scallops are much larger in size and come from the cold waters of the deep ocean. Diver sea scallops are really special sea varieties as they are hand harvested by scallop divers. Typically, these larger scallops are what you would see on restaurant menus and cost much more than bay scallops. These precious scallops have a shorter shelf life but are considered a seafood specialty.
- Bay Scallops - The small bay scallop is considered to be sweeter in taste and very tender which makes them perfect for salads or cooking them in soups and stews. They are caught in more shallow waters of estuaries and bays. Bay scallops cost much less than sea scallops. Peruvian scallops are bigger scallops and another bay variety. These delicate bay scallops look like smaller sea scallops. Regular bay scallops can be quite small, sometimes as small as a size of a dime. If I am using bay scallops, I always get the Peruvian ones as they are my favorite bay scallop.
Tips for Buying Scallops
- If Choosing Fresh Scallops- They should be firm to the touch, not have a fishy smell and be a beige to creamy white color. Scallops should not be overly wet, slimey or smell like ammonia. The freshest catch of scallops will smell like the ocean.
- If choosing Sea Scallops look for Dry Scallops - I get dry scallops when I can that are U/10 or U/12 (meaning about 10 or 12 per pound). They are nice sized scallops. I prefer the dry ones because they contain no preservatives so they do not produce much water when cooking them. This allows for a nice seared crust. Wet scallops have been soaked or treated with a brine sloution to extend their shelf life so that have lots of added liquid. If buying wet scallops, make sure to give them a good rinse with water and pat scallops dry with paper towels.
- Buy Scallops when on sale - The downside of dry sea scallops is that they are more expensive. However to me, the extra money is worth every penny. But they do go on sale so that is when I buy them.
- Frozen Scallops are a good choice if you do not have access to fresh ones from a fish market. Make sure the scallops do not have ice crystals on them or freezer burn. Buy high quality scallops from a reputable grocery store or market. Make sure to thaw in the fridge overnight and pat with paper towels to remove any excess water before cooking.
How to Store Scallops
- Fresh scallops should be stored in a refrigerator at 40 degrees. Make sure to cook them fresh within one day of purchasing.
- Frozen scallops should be kept wrapped air tight in a freezer. Defrost them in the refrigerator the night before cooking.
How are Scallops Cooked?
Large sea scallops will get a nice crust on them when pan seared. Sea scallops can be fried, broiled or grilled for delicious results. For a special occasion, I like to make Coquilles Saint Jacques with large scallops. It's a wonderful French scallop dish that is not very hard to make. The smaller bay scallops can be sauteed or put in soups in stews. I also love them in this Scallop Fried Rice dish.
Both size scallops are good with pasta or rice. Scallops are best when they are not overcooked as they can get tough. They should have a just-right crispy exterior with a soft texture on the inside. The best way to get a perfect pan sear on scallops is to dry them with paper towels before cooking. Just a touch of olive oil and some seasoning are all you need to create a wonderful scallop dish.
Best Sea Scallop Recipes
- Pan Seared Scallops with Brown Butter Beer Sauce
- Seared Asian Scallops with Spinach
- Scallops with Linguine Al Pesto via Ask Chef Dennis
- 3 Ingredient Quick Tomato Curry Sauce with Scallops
- Lemon Butter Air Fryer Scallops
Once you've made scallops, it's time to think about what to serve with them. Here are 25 best side dish recipes to serve with scallops.
Final thoughts on Scallops
If you want to make a special meal and love seafood, these are for you. They can be costly, so if you see them on sale, go for it and have a delicious dinner of sweet-yet-briny goodness!